Hi everyone! I realise if you're reading this you will most likely be my family and friends (and therefore obliged to) but just in case......I am a volunteer for VSO and this is a blog about my experiences of life in Nigeria, first I was briefly in Calabar and now I'm in Abuja the capital city. You may also find some random references to uses I find for the tools on my Swiss army knife as well as my reflections on my everyday life as a VSO volunteer, just go with it.
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Where to begin…
I commented in a recent post on some of the things that have become ‘normal’ to me now and it dawned on me today that I actually feel like I live here now. I don’t mean I’ve become fully integrated or anything like that, just that I feel like a resident rather than a visitor. The idea of how truly integrated we can ever become was something discussed at great length during our VSO training, however much we may think we have become fully fledged members of the community to an extent we are always going to be outsiders. Anyway I’m not claiming that I am now magically ‘Nigerian’ after only two months in country and I couldn’t tell you when the transition from visitor to resident happened but for the next ten months this is home.
I think it has partly come about as the things that felt really alien to me when I first arrived are now part and parcel of everyday life and I don’t really notice them anymore. Like all those things I mentioned in my earlier post about the washing and water etc. It already makes me wonder how I’ll adjust when I do come home, I guess I’ll have my visit in January as a little taster, will I get reverse culture shock I wonder? This is something to ponder on much nearer my departure time next year but it’s already running through my head because I realise just how easy my life was before and it’s not like it’s incredibly hard in the grand scheme of things now, definitely not compared to the vast majority of the population in this country. This is where the guilt comes in.
It’s not like I come from a background of huge wealth but I’ve been very blessed in my life and have always been looked after by my parents and step dad. Growing up I never went without food, water, clothes, toys, school books, a roof over my head and knowing that I was loved and cared for. I never went without. This is all brings me to my visit today and realising how very lucky I am to have had access to everything I did and that all things I whinge and moan about back home really pale into insignificance. As well as feeling lucky, I couldn’t help but feel very guilty as I was shown around various schools and communities today. I’m not sure if that’s an odd reaction or not but that’s how I felt.
School might not always have been everyone’s favourite place to go but looking back I’m sure we can all appreciate what our education has allowed us to do in life and also appreciate the environment in which we were able to learn. My sister is a teacher and my mum used to teach as well and I’m pretty sure they would both have been very upset by some of classrooms I saw today. I promise this post isn’t all doom and gloom by the way.
The first school I was taken to was in the communities of Gasaki and Cheta, I knew this was likely to be pretty bad as my organisation has just received a small grant to help repair the school thanks to the work of the previous volunteer but even so I was still shocked by what I saw.
Gasaki and Cheta Primary School
The 'hanging' classroom
The children sit on the benches or the floor
Would you want to spend time in a building like this?
The classes line up between these plants
After visiting the school, we went on into the communities which sit side by side and I met some of the people who have been helped by USI. I couldn’t resist getting a picture of these children as they all came running over to see us when we appeared by their houses.
They are classed as OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) and have been helped in various ways receiving nutritional support, healthcare, HIV/AIDS testing and counselling, reintegration into mainstream education for those that had dropped out of school and their caregivers have also received help with healthcare and grants to assist with income generating activities. On the surface they appear to have very little but these children (although not in the picture I grant you!) were smiling and happy and according to my colleague looking much healthier than on a previous visit. After having a tiny baby thrust into my arms, soooooooo cute and then alas taken away I was taken to visit one of the chiefs.
Mum you would’ve been so proud, on entering his special ‘receiving guests room’ which consisted of an armchair on a big concrete step with some mats on the ground around it, I managed to walk into a huge spiders web and collected both the web and the spider on my person. As you will know not my favourite things spiders BUT I did not scream, have any kind hysterical fit or embarrass myself in anyway shape of form (hence you being proud mum). I merely brushed it off as if it were nothing and then sat as far away from the area where the thing had landed. Now it wasn’t HUGE but it was big enough that back at home or indeed anywhere else not in the presence of a chief I would’ve had cause to scream. My colleague then casually picked cobweb off me as he sat talking to the chief in Hausa whilst I smiled and nodded like I knew what was going on and tried not to think about where the eight legged freak was. All in all I did quite well until I nearly fell over putting my shoes back on as we were leaving, so close Kasia, so close.
The visiting continued through the day and went to three more schools only one of which actually seemed to have any children in it (it is around the end of holiday time) and I took photos at just one more where we are hoping to get some funding through a new proposal, some of which will be used for renovations of the classrooms and installing toilet facilities as there are none currently.
All in all it was a brilliant day but a day of contrasts for me. I have come away feeling as I have already said very lucky, lucky to have been born into a country where schools have tables, chairs, equipment and walls. It also brought out feelings of guilt, I know that I didn’t take someone’s chance at that life that I was just born into it and that was my lot in life and for that I’m very grateful. I feel guilty for all the times I complained about school, whinged about going or that something else was crap in my all too easy life. I know now that when I do go home I will not take things for granted and if I have children one day I will want them to know just how very lucky they are. So here endeth the unloading and tomorrow I will channel everything into my proposal writing and hopefully we will be successful.